A deep-dive into her collaborative side…

After five patient years, SZA has finally released the Deluxe version of her second studio album, ‘Ctrl’.

Now, we all remember when the original ‘Ctrl’ dropped back in 2017 – after all, it was a pivotal moment for contemporary R&B. And – if you were anything like me – you had that album constantly playing on rotation. But no matter how great an album is, there’s only so often you can replay it over and over again before you need a break from it. That’s not to say we need a break from her music, but simply a refresh.This is where SZA and her R&B friends come in. Before the long-awaited drop of ‘Ctrl (Deluxe)’, fans got their SZA fix by regular micro-doses of any feature we could get our hands on.

Fortunately for us, SZA never failed to deliver when it came to consistently releasing tracks in collaboration with R&B artists. Working alongside musicians such as Kendrick Lamar and Doja Cat, SZA graced every song with her unmistakable angelic voice. In honour of the release of ‘Ctrl (Deluxe)’, here are a few of my favourite SZA features that have kept me going over the years.

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Isaiah Rashad ft SZA, 6LACK – ‘Score’

I’d describe listening to ‘Score’ as the kind of song that you feel in your face – that’s the power of a stellar bassline and beat combination. SZA worked with hip-hop artist, Isaiah Rashad, on this song, who also made an appearance on ‘Ctrl’ with ‘Pretty Little Birds’. SZA’s verse is sandwiched between Rashad’s and 6LACK’s, which almost acts as a melodic relief. The song opens with a strong hook that carries the track throughout.

‘Score’ is definitely one of those songs best heard through a pair of headphones. If you haven’t heard it or tried it yet, give it a listen and thank me later.

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Summer Walker ft SZA – ‘No Love’

Summer Walker and SZA have been a highly sought-after R&B alliance since they each made a name for themselves in the industry. When Walker first released the track-list for her album, ‘Still Over It’, featuring artists including SZA, fans were practically itching for it to drop.

Both artists are known for their honest and unapologetic lyrics when it comes to the reality of relationships, and they certainly did not hold back when it came to laying it all out on the table with ‘No Love’. My favourite SZA line (well, at least the most PG of my favourite lines) was: “If I did it all again, I would give like ten percent, he deserved like half of that, Imma need my money back.” The artists perfectly convey the meaning of being ‘over it’.

SZA and Summer Walker felt like a natural pairing, especially for the album and I’m certain that ‘No Love’ is just first many collaborations that the future holds for the two.

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Shelley FKA DRAM – ‘Caretaker’ ft SZA

‘Caretaker’ ticks all the boxes for a perfect mellow SZA song. The song is stripped back to a slow swaying beat, an expressive piano and soulful vocals from both artists. The song almost makes you feel like you’ve been dropped into an intimate unplugged concert with SZA and Shelley FKA DRAM.  

‘Caretaker’ displays one of SZA’s best vocal performances on a feature, where we really get to hear her range and control that radiates nothing short of ethereal energy. The lyrics express a raw vulnerability with such earnestness that we know and love from SZA’s discography. ‘Caretaker’ quickly became one of my favourite songs to wind down to, with its calming aura. With the song spanning over a total of two minutes, you’re left wishing for more.

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Doja Cat ft SZA – ‘Kiss Me More’

This award-winning track was the feel-good anthem of 2021. Even if you aren’t a SZA fan, this song would have definitely managed to find its way to you whether you liked it or not. You simply can’t make a list of SZA’s top features and not include ‘Kiss Me More’.

Accompanied by the powder pink space-goddess visuals in the music video, ‘Kiss Me More’ became the embodiment of carefree feminine expression in 2021. The artists managed to inject the track with instant mood-boosting properties, which allowed the world to see a different and more upbeat side to SZA’s usual music. Doja Cat and SZO blended both of their unique sounds seamlessly, and are definitely a duo to look out for in the future.

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SZA x Calvin Harris – ‘The Weekend’ (Funk Wav) Remix

Even though it’s technically not a SZA feature per se, I could not envision this list without ‘The Weekend’ (Funk Wav) Remix.

Now if there’s one thing SZA can do, it’s making iconic songs about being in situationships. This remix was released alongside the drop of her second studio album, ‘Ctrl’, and as much as the story behind the song split her fans, it never failed to get people singing. Now, throw in Calvin Harris to the mix, and we have a track that people can’t help but dance to as well.

The remix takes a soft soulful song and transports it back to the 70s during the height of funk music, with a bouncy rhythm so good that you’ll practically forget you’re singing about sharing your man with another woman. Calvin Harris’ spin on SZA’s song took it to another level turning it into a club banger, an undefeated combination.

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Rihanna ft SZA – ‘Consideration’

With this powerful number, not only did SZA feature on it with Rihanna but she also co-wrote it. The song is led by a strong pounding beat, where SZA quickly adopts the ‘Anti’-energy alongside Rihanna. The powerhouse-duo compliment each other, with Rihanna’s strong punchy delivery and SZA bringing the balance with her airy falsetto vocals.

The vocalists repeat the chorus that reads, “I got to do things my own way, darlin’, you should just let me, why will you never let me grow?” Consideration radiates independence and empowerment through the lyrics, the instrumentation, and the delivery from both Rihanna and SZA.

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SAINt JHN ft SZA – ‘Just For Me’

SZA collaborates with Brooklyn-raised artist, SAINt JHN on a number for the new Space Jam film soundtrack. The duet joined forces on ‘Just For Me’, a love song with a distorted-techno vibe fit for a futuristic space film. SAINt JHN and SZA both deliver amazing vocals with a unique melody. Particularly with SAINt JHN, we definitely see more of his singer side over his rapper side shining through on the track.

Listen out for the pre-chorus, which is undoubtedly the best part of the entire song where the lyrics sing, “I fall in love with lows and the midnight highs, the pills, the pains and the bad advice.” Both artists each take turns singing the pre-chorus, where it builds and builds with such passion before we get dropped with a bang into the chorus. An amazing collaboration from the two.

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Kali Uchis ft SZA – ‘Fue Major’

I consider ‘Fue Major’ to be a highly slept-on track for through it we get to witness two worlds effortlessly collide with neo-soul artist, SZA, combining forces with the Queen of Latin R&B herself.

In the song we hear both artists coming through with the Spa-glish we all know and love from Kali Uchis’s music which allows us to see another dimension to SZA as an artist here. Fue Major was originally made with PARTYNEXTDOOR as the feature artist in Kali Uchis’ 2020 album, Sin Miedo. However she later released a version with SZA in 2021.

SZA adapts to Kali Uchis’s style of Spa-glish, while also allowing her own unique voice to come through. This slow and sultry track is layered with both artists’ light and airy vocals paired with a strong bass beat, capturing the essence of both SZA and Uchis’ distinct sound. Captivating your audience with your music in English is difficult as it is, SZA makes doing it in both Spanish and English sound effortless.

This pairing is a music match made in heaven.

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Words: Milcah Fajardo

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